County mental health officials Wednesday urged residents to connect with individuals who may be experiencing stress or despair during the holiday season.
"Reach out to those who appear to be suffering, even if that suffering is denied at first," said Dr. Jonathan Sherin, the new director of the Department of Mental Health. "At the end of the day, what each of us needs, and trauma victims all the more, is a life filled with purposeful, meaningful activity as well as an enduring sense of belonging."
While many residents are celebrating the holidays, "for others, the holiday routine becomes a time of deep and painful self-reflection ... resulting in a stressful and re-traumatizing time that feeds negativity and reinforces a vicious cycle of despair," the department said in a statement.
The most vulnerable individuals are those who have experienced significant trauma, such as poverty, neglect or physical, sexual or emotional abuse. Individuals who are bullied, have survived environmental disasters or been exposed to war or terrorism are also at high risk.
Sixty-four percent of individuals with a history of mental illness reported that the holidays worsen existing conditions, according to a survey by the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
The survey also found that those with trauma tend to isolate themselves more than usual during the holidays.
Helpful coping strategies suggested by the department include:
-- make time for loved ones, especially children;
-- interact with others;
-- find one positive thing each day to spark a smile or laugh;
-- take time to remember positive, reinforcing past experiences;
-- set reasonable holiday expectations to avoid being disappointed or resentful;
-- minimize holiday "duties" such as gift shopping and entertaining to avoid stress;
-- plan ahead when possible to minimize the stress linked with last-minute activities;
-- get exercise, eat healthfully and avoid heavy consumption of alcohol and other risky behaviors; and
-- disengage from situations that cause conflict, resentment or anxiety.
Most important is to share negative thoughts or feelings with others so they can try to offer support and to seek professional help if you or a loved one is feeling overwhelmed with negativity.
"The cure to suffering in isolation, whether during the holiday or not, is cultural," Sherin said. "It ultimately rests in the creation of a strong community fabric that by its very nature spreads knowledge about mental illness, supports regular forums for honest and empathic dialog, and provides opportunities for each of us to help out.
"Let us make this holiday a time to reach out to, communicate with and learn from each other as human beings. In fact, we should all make it part of our daily life," Sherin added.
Residents are invited to call the department's 24-hour hotline at (800)854-7771 for help and support during the holiday and year-round.
Additional resources for help include:
-- Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services at http://www.didihirsch.org;
-- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at http://www.afsp.org;
-- Trevor Project at http://www.trevorproject.org; and
-- National Alliance on Mental Illness at http://wwww.nami.org.